Happy New Year to you all,
Did you know that while almost one in two people will make a New Year's resolution, only about one in ten will actually keep it? Did you also know that RP can play a crucial role in helping you stay on track? The key here is the phenomenon of shame (something I wrote about last time in relation to Brexit if you'd like to check it out) and something that we as a species are surprising unaware of - it's certainly explained a lot to me since I've come to know of it in the last couple of years.
Previously I mentioned that I practice tai chi in my spare time (it's actually a lot tougher than it looks). For me, practicing more in between classes was often a New Year's resolution. It was also often a resolution throughout the year, probably every other week in fact. With great intentions I would resolve to do more. And every other week I would, for a day or two, and then just as quickly relapse and miss a day, which would lead to a second day missed and then a third and so on. And then (and this may sound familiar to some of you) I'd start to beat myself up, with negative self-talk and worry about what my teacher would think and that I was never going to be as good as the senior students. That, I have since discovered, is classic shame - shame being one of the emotions we experience when our positive emotions are interrupted. Here's how it works. There are four ways we react when things go against us (strictly speaking we can of course Find, Face, and Fix a problem when it arises in a calm and collected fashion - but who wants to face their limitations like that off the bat, I know I'd rather try to avoid it if I could). Check out the diagram below.
The first way we deal with shame is withdrawal. This is the reason why people who miss even a day or two of the gym in January often decide not to go back again, ever (even when they've gotten a year's subscription). We hide - literally. Out of sight, out of mind. Shame averted. Another previous New Year's Resolution of mine was to practice the guitar. After this particular resolution failed I put it in a spare room and didn't pick it up for TWO years - a brilliant way of avoiding shame but a terrible way to improve my playing.
The second way is attack self. This means we put our self down as not deserving of what it was we wanted - "I don't have the willpower to quit smoking/eat less/exercise more/etc", "I didn't deserve that new job anyway" (or maybe even more self-destructive talk than that). If we reduce ourselves as non-deserving and hence reduce our expectations, then we no longer fail. It makes a lot of sense really. "I'll never be able to play the guitar well, my fingers are wonky" (I actually thought that about myself once).
Moving along then, we have the strategy of avoidance. This is when we try to avoid the feeling altogether. So, rather than eat or drink less, we do the opposite and eat or drink more and enjoy the (temporary) dopamine hit. Maybe instead of saving more money, we are hit by a moment of shame and instead of Find/Face/Fix we decide to splash out on a big car or holiday. Again, shame diverted, temporarily. In extreme cases people turn to stronger drugs to avoid what's going on.
The final way to deal with shame, when all others have been tried or just don't work is to attack others. Here the idea is to try and make the other person feel worse than you, thereby elevating you in the process. "At least I tried to quit/stop/save/etc, what did you do?" The consequences of this are there for all to see in our society, every day in the papers and on the news.
So that's the four ways we react in general (people of course have developed a myriad of variations within each of these). How does this help us in dealing with shame or keeping our resolutions? Well, the first step in dealing with any problem is surely to understand it. And, once we understand that what we are feeling is an aspect of shame and that this is totally natural, then it begins to put us ever so slightly at ease. Daniel Siegel puts it nicely: "name it to tame it", i.e. the act of naming an emotion automatically leads to a reduction in its intensity. Therefore we can accept it as a human response and, hopefully, get back to Find, Face and Fix the problem. This, of course, is easier said than done. But, at least you are back giving yourself a chance.
Another advantage to knowing about shame is that it helps us to empathise with other people (empathy being the antidote to shame). If I know that a stray comment about your attempt at giving up smoking/drinking/etc is going to induce shame and a shame response in you, then I am that much more likely to chose my words more wisely and correct myself if I've already said it. "Don't you think you've had enough to eat/drink" is only ever going to be met by "I'll tell you when I've had enough" or a variation thereof. If you induce shame, don't be surprised at one of the four responses from above. More often than not, we just need to listen.
For what it's worth I eventually licked the tai chi practice problem by identifying a time of the day that worked (early morning) and the guitar practice problem by leaving it in the kitchen and setting a more modest target (5 minutes a day). Maybe if I'd known about shame ten years ago, I'd have saved myself a lot of shame. Still, better late than never. Maybe you can put your knowledge of shame to use with that resolution sooner.
That's Restorative Practice.
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at email@example.com. Thank you.
1/7/2019 01:14:26 pm
A well timed read for me. Thanks for posting Joe.
1/8/2019 09:55:43 pm
As always, very insightful, Joe. I, too, regret not being emotionally literate til later in life. What a waste of time, energy and headspace feeling ashamed. So grateful for the wisdom of RP and other helpful people and tools I ve shared this journey with.
1/30/2019 04:59:21 pm
Thanks for highlighting the insidious nature of shame when it manifests as avoidance. For me, I associate my shame with compulsive behaviour i.e. instead of throwing out the mound of chocolate left over after Christmas eating it all steadily until it is gone. For me, this acting out is very self- destructive and self - sabotaging ; as it spirals and intensifies the other behaviours kick in : attacking self, attacking others and withdrawal.
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